True, in New York City, term limits suffered a setback this November . . . but not because of anything voters did at the ballot box. It was a loophole-exploiting power grab by Mayor Bloomberg and the city council members. Eager to serve extra terms, they unilaterally weakened the city’s term limits law. Regular New Yorkers were not consulted.
But turn your attention, instead, to South Dakota, where career politicians posted a measure, Referendum J, to repeal state legislative term limits. (Oh, how politicians hate term limits!) Here, voters were actually consulted about whether they wanted to keep the law they had passed in 1992.
And yes, they did want to keep it. Back in ’92, the law passed with a 64 percent majority. An even bigger majority, 76 percent, said No to repealing the limits this year. A South Dakota group called Don’t Touch Term Limits had gotten the anti-repeal message out with a simple slogan: NO WAY! VOTE NO ON J!
South Dakota was not the sole victory, either. Term limits were at issue in the state of Louisiana and various cities and counties in California, Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas. In almost every case, the supporters of term limits won the day.
One setback for term limits, however, occurred in San Antonio, where after previous failed attempts, the mayor and city council convinced voters in a relatively fair election to loosen the limit from two two-year terms (that is, four years), to four two-year terms (eight years).
But most contests defended existing limits, or expanded new limits. In Louisiana, for instance, voters passed new limits on the terms of statewide boards and commissions.
Many local referendums to weaken or chuck term limits were soundly defeated. As Steve Moore explained in the Wall Streeet Journal’s online diary, “In localities ranging from State College, Pennsylvania to Tracy, California and Memphis, Tennessee, voters approved term limits by two-to-one margins. Eight of the ten largest U.S. cities now have term limits.”
Long live term limits! Short live, terms.
Term limitation is a very important reform, though it certainly won’t by itself provide all the discipline governments require. What the issue does accomplish, with its near universal popularity, is a clear demonstration of the degree to which voters are in charge.
When voters get to decide the issue directly, and aren’t mugged by people like Mayor Bloomberg, voters choose term limits. Where there are no such limits — in Congress and most state legislatures — those in power can simply trump the people.
Term limits provide a much-needed political barometer.
Now back to your regularly scheduled salute to President-Elect Barack Obama.